Drawing to Clarity
At one point in my (as-yet-unpublished) novel, Inklings, my main character Gina finds herself unexpectedly pregnant. She is young and single, barely makes enough money to feed and house herself, and has just started out on the uphill vocational path of becoming a tattooist at a time when few women were tattooing. She is alone and broke and doesn’t know what to do. And her friend Anna instructs her to cook.
Under Anna’s direction, they cooked all afternoon. “This is a way of thinking better,” Anna said. “If you want to clear your head, you make food. And as you’re preparing it, you either find some answers, even little tiny sprigs of answers”—she took a twig of rosemary between her fingers and pinched it apart, into a pan of warming oil—“or sometimes it just makes the space in your head for the good answers to come.”
When I am trying to make space for the good answers, I draw.
I am no great artist. I have a little knack for it which I’ve never put much time into developing. But drawing is my cooking. When I don’t understand something, I can sometimes draw myself to clarity.
Lately I’ve been doing one last round of novel-polishing, which is nearly complete. I began this round with a very clear idea of the changes I needed to make, but about six weeks into the process, things started getting murky and I was losing perspective.
I hit on the idea of making a tiny drawing for the head of each chapter. In the context of the book, these are drawings by Gina, my main character–drawings from her notebook as she practices to become a tattooist. I am amazed at the way creating them has helped me with editing. I go into each chapter, sifting for the image that gets at the core of the story that needs to unfold there. In the process of choosing that image and then drawing it, I usually arrive at clarity regarding the edits I need to make.
Here are a few of those drawings.